Friday, February 29, 2008

The change in the Senate and the stakes for housing

The special election Tuesday to elect a State Senator in the 48th Senatorial district reduced the Republicans margin to 32-30, with several vulnerable Republicans expected to face tough competition in November. Portrayed in the press as a victory for Gov. Eliot Spitzer--and it is--the ramifications for New York City may be felt most sharply in the area of housing.

"The election today may change how we look at the rent laws," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said at a housing panel at the New-York Historic Society on Tuesday, when the results of the election had not yet surfaced.

Since 1971, the legislature, not the City Council, has held the most power over rent regulation, thanks to the Urstadt Law. A Democratic legislature, with a Democratic governor, will be far more receptive to maintaining and strengthening rent protections, and restoring "home rule."

While rent regulations are always an issue for debate, it's pretty hard to argue against, for example, acknowledging the effects of inflation. Tenants and Neighbors reports:
As a result of changes to the rent laws between 1993 and 1997, landlords can permanently deregulate any rent regulated apartment when it becomes vacant, provided they can push the new rent over $2,000. This provision in the law, called high-rent vacancy decontrol, is an incentive to landlords to push out tenants so that apartments can be removed from rent regulation forever.

$2000 was once a very high rent--not so much today. Had it been indexed to rental inflation when established in 1994, it would be over $3300 today.

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